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Global distribution and conservation of rare and threatened vertebrates

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 12 March 2009


Global conservation strategies commonly assume that different taxonomic groups show congruent geographical patterns of diversity, and that the distribution of extinction-prone species in one group can therefore act as a surrogate for vulnerable species in other groups when conservation decisions are being made1,2,3,4. The validity of these assumptions remains unclear, however, because previous tests have been limited in both geographical and taxonomic extent5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12. Here we use a database on the global distribution of 19,349 living bird, mammal and amphibian species to show that, although the distribution of overall species richness is very similar among these groups, congruence in the distribution of rare and threatened species is markedly lower. Congruence is especially low among the very rarest species. Cross-taxon congruence is also highly scale dependent, being particularly low at the finer spatial resolutions relevant to real protected areas. ‘Hotspots’ of rarity and threat are therefore largely non-overlapping across groups, as are areas chosen to maximize species complementarity. Overall, our results indicate that ‘silver-bullet’ conservation strategies alone will not deliver efficient conservation solutions. Instead, priority areas for biodiversity conservation must be based on high-resolution data from multiple taxa.

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Figure 1: Global richness maps for birds, mammals and amphibians.
Figure 2: Cross-taxon congruence and the effects of scale and definition of rarity on congruence.
Figure 3: Cross-taxon congruence of richness hotspots.
Figure 4: Relative performance of different types of priority network.


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We thank the field biologists who have made these data sets possible; the Global Amphibian Assessment, BirdLife International, Conservation International, IUCN, NatureServe, A. Stattersfield, S. Stuart, W. Sechrest and L. Boitani for access to data; J. Baillie, M. Balman, L. Bennun, L. Boitani, T. Brooks, M. Burgess, S. Butchart, M. Cardillo, F. Eigenbrod, S. Fritz, C. Godfray, G. Mace, S. Meiri, J. O’Dell, A. Phillimore, N. Pickup, A. Purvis, W. Sechrest, E. Smith, A. Stattersfield, S. Stuart, A. Webster and the London e-Science Centre for technical assistance, discussion or comments on the manuscript. This work was funded by the National Science Foundation and the UK Natural Environment Research Council. K.J.G. holds a Royal Society–Wolfson Research Merit Award. Author Contributions Team leaders J.L.G. and I.P.F.O. contributed equally to this work. The study was devised by R.G., C.D.L.O., J.L.G. and I.P.F.O. R.G., C.D.L.O. and S.F.J. conducted the analyses. R.G., C.D.L.O., S.F.J., G.H.T., R.G.D., T.J.D., K.E.J., V.A.O., R.S.R., P.C.R., T.-S.D., P.M.B., T.M.B., K.J.G., J.L.G. and I.P.F.O. contributed data or technical expertise. R.G., C.D.L.O., J.L.G. and I.P.F.O. wrote the initial draft of the manuscript. All authors commented on subsequent drafts.

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Correspondence to Richard Grenyer, John L. Gittleman or Ian P. F. Owens.

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This file contains Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Table 1, Supplementary Figures 1–3 and additional references. (DOC 195 kb)

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Grenyer, R., Orme, C., Jackson, S. et al. Global distribution and conservation of rare and threatened vertebrates. Nature 444, 93–96 (2006).

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